On March 13, 2012 heli-ski guide Rob Liberman and his client Nick Dodov were skiing in the Alaskan backcountry when they were caught in an avalanche and killed. Their deaths sent a shockwave through the extreme skiing community who mourned their deaths while at the same time celebrating their zest for life and pursuit of adventure.
At the time of the accident, filmmaker Ben Clark was in Haines, Alaska where he was making a documentary featuring a group of talented skiers and snowboarders who had come to that remote town to train with Alaska Heli, a well-known and well-respected guide service. The original vision of the film was to show the dedication, training and focus that a ski guide must possess in order to be successful in this competitive and challenging career, while giving us a glimpse of the sport that is very different from the glitzy ski and snowboard films we’re use to seeing.
Following the accident, Clark could have taken the film in a number of directions, possibly capitalizing on the sensationalistic nature of the story. But the film stayed true to its roots, delivering a no-frills look at the hard work and training necessary to become a heli-ski guide. It just happens to also have a tragic element that casts a large shadow over the entire story.
The film, which is entitled The Alaskan Way, is now complete and will soon be premiering at upcoming film festivals and as part of a 25-city tour. I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the movie and came away very impressed with the compelling storytelling that refuses to pander to the audience nor lead them around on an emotional leash. In fact, the film doesn’t focus much on the accident at all, saving those scenes until almost the very end. Despite that however, it still managed to leave me asking questions and thinking about what I had seen long after I had finished watching.
Speaking with the filmmaker directly, Clark told me that’s exactly what he had in mind when he started editing the The Alaskan Way. His goal from the beginning was to show how dedicated these ski guides are to their lifestyle. They know that there is some inherent risk that comes along with the job and they accept that whenever they head out into the backcountry. But the film doesn’t use that as some kind of justification for the pursuit of dangerous activities. Instead, it leaves it up to the viewer to ponder those things for themselves.
If anyone understands those questions, it is Ben Clark. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you might recognize his name. Ben’s climb of Everest was the subject of the early seasons of The Rest of Everest video podcast, and later we followed along as he skied the Himalaya. Ben told me that he felt like it would be hypocritical of him to try to put a spin on the question of whether or not it is safe to ski in the backcountry or pursue other potentially dangerous activities. Instead, he tells the story and lets us make our own decisions. He did confess however that the deaths of Liberman and Dodov have altered his perception of what is acceptable risk when he embarks on his own adventures.
The trailer for the full film can be found below. It will give you a sense of what you can expect when the The Alaskan Way starts hitting the adventure film fest circuit in the weeks ahead. It is a thought provoking and intriguing look at the nature of adventure and choices we all must make in pursuit of our passions. Hopefully you’ll all get an opportunity to catch it soon.
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